Republicans exuded so much warmth and sunshine toward immigrants during their three-day convention gala last week that no one would ever guess that only recently their presidential contenders were competing over who'd make the tougher Deporter-in-Chief. Herman Cain called for a 20-foot electrified border fence with barbed wire that
killed on contact. Michele Bachman pledged to send Immigration and Customs agents to hunt illegals in the interior and chase them out.
But Romney finally triumphed over the final pack with his plan to make the life of illegals so miserable that they would "self deport." A defeated Newt Gingrich declared Romney the winner: "He is the most anti-immigrant candidate of us all," Newt announced.
But there was Mitt's son, Craig, at the convention choking up about the immigrant roots of his family. "It's easy to forget that the story of my father's success begins with the story of two immigrants—my grandfathers—who came to this country [one from Mexico] with little more than hope in the opportunity of America," he said.
He was hardly the only one. As ABC recounts, there was:
- South Dakota Sen. John Thune who described how his Norwegian grandfather immigrated through Ellis Island, changing his name along the way.
- Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum who explained how his father immigrated "from the mountains of northern Italy, on a ship named Providence."
- Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told of his great grandfather who arrived penniless to live the "American Dream," and also cited struggles and triumphs of friends—a Cambodian family in Kentucky and Vietnamese brothers who arrived on a "leaky boat."
- Utah House candidate Mia Love, who in her two minutes on the podium, managed to mention her parents immigrating from Haiti "with $10 in their pocket."
- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley who proclaimed that she is the "proud daughter of Indian immigrants."
- And Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz told a "love story of freedom" about his Irish-Italian working-class mom and his Cuban refugee dad.
And then Romney himself, in his etch-a-sketch moment, crooned: "We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better."
But conservative hawks repeatedly claim that to know where Palestinians really stand on making peace with Israel, one should look not at what their leaders proclaim in sanitized international forums but at their formal charters. By the same token, to know where the Republican Party really stands on immigration, one should look not at the bathetic personal tales it tells the world during prime time TV—but at the platform the party faithful hammered out in the backrooms away from the convention klieg lights.
And this platform certainly pays lip service to handing more H1-B visas (temporary work permits, not green cards or citizenship, mind you) to high-skilled immigrants – but evidently only to those who speak English! And not to simply make it easier for businesses to grow, but to "reclaim this country's traditional position of dominance in international trade."
But the bulk of the party's immigration statement is devoted to condemning the lack of respect illegal immigrants have for the rule of law. It declares "securing the rule of law both at our borders and port of entry" as "our highest priority." And to fulfill that priority, it regurgitates the usual bromides about making E-Verify mandatory for hiring (so much for deregulating the workplace) and completing a "double-layered fence" on the southern border (so much for cutting spending on wasteful government programs).
Even more distressingly, however, it goes out of its way to portray illegals as criminals who make communities unsafe – never mind that border-towns such as El Paso with a large undocumented population have an exceedingly low crime rate.
But the heart of the statement is devoted to operationalizing Mitt Romney's plan to get immigrants to "self deport" by opposing:
- "any form of amnesty;"
- denying "federal grants" to states that offer "instate tuition" to illegal aliens;
- giving Uncle Sam the tools to go after "sanctuary cities" that "endanger their own citizens;" aiding states like Alabama that want to cut even basic municipal services like water to undocumented households…
…and so on.
Party platforms are of course written to be ignored. They are more useful as liners for kitty litter boxes than as guidance for future presidents. But the problem for Romney, should he become president, is that this party platform basically enunciates the immigration vision he himself articulated during the primary debates. I actually don't believe that he is cruel enough to believe this vision. He said what he thought he needed to say to appease the rowdy restrictionists in his party and win the nomination. But the problem is that having said that – and having his words codified in the platform – he has basically forfeited his ability to lead his party toward a more enlightened position and possibly paved the way for some pretty bad stuff on this issue, all the happy talk at the convention notwithstanding.